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Whether one is producing music, podcasts, game sounds, or film sound effects, Digital Audio Principles provides the tips and techniques that will make the project a success. Author Dave Schroeder explains the basics of digital audio production techniques and covers the essential hardware and software. He also discusses sound theory, frequency response, the range of human hearing, and dynamic range.
Okay, in this section, we're going to take a look at mastering and addressing sonic maximization, or trying to make sure that we have the best sonic profile for a mix possible. That means we want to look at a few things. We want to check out, ultimately, the final output volume. We want to look at the dynamic range, or how loud the loudest parts are in relationship to the quietest parts, and see if there's a way we can compress that a little bit to get a little more volume out of the overall mix. And also we want to look at the frequency distribution, or make sure that it's not too base-heavy a mix, or may be missing out on some treble, or there's some strange spike where somehow we mixed one of the guitars and it's really pushing one frequency a lot more than the rest of the frequencies.
We want to try and make sure that all the frequencies are kind of heard evenly, not per instrument, but the overall mix. So let's start by just taking a look at what we've got frequency-wise. The first thing I like to do actually when I do mastering is take a look at the volume of the initial file. This is my mixdown file from the session, and I usually label those with a little PM at the end of the title. The way I like to use that is that it stands for Pre Master, so I know kind of what state this file is in. It hasn't been mastered yet, but it's a mixdown before it's been mastered. Simple enough.
You can come up with any little notes you want for that. That's not some sort of industry standard. That's just something I do, and it helps me keep my files organized. Let's go ahead and play this track back a little bit and just see what the maximum volume peaks we're getting. (Audio playing.) So that looks about the loudest part in the song based on the waveform, and you can see it's not that loud. We've got some dB to go there. So I'm going to go ahead and to get things started, just go ahead and normalize this.
The Normalize option, and I'm going to normalize it up to just -1 dB, and let that go ahead. I'm going to undo that for one second. I should mention that I always like to make a new copy of the piece I'm working on for each stage or each step that I add to the file. So here's my original file. Now, I am going to make this my normalized file.
That way you can kind of track the progress, visually, of what's going on and then easily click in A-B from one file to the next. It's nice to be able to note your progress. So, I've normalized this, and now our loudest peak should be a lot closer to digital 0. (Music playing.) Looks good. So now I'm going to take a look at the frequency distribution of this song. So I've loaded up a plug-in that will show the frequency of the whole track, so let's just take a look at how the frequency lines up here.
We'll start somewhere in the middle because I know that at the beginning, there's a bit of an intro. I'm mostly concerned with the body of the song. (Music playing.) Like EQs, we're looking from left to right, the different frequency range, and the volume. (Music playing.) So it's pretty easy to see the trend here. We've got quite a bit of low- end and then not so much high-end. So I want to go in and try and even that out. I kind of want to have as much high- end representative as I do low-end.
So we'll go ahead and open up a multi- band compressor, and I'll also use this in the AudioSuite, or at file level. This is a Dynamics device. We use it in Stereo mode, and a multi- band compressor's very cool because as the name implies, it's a compressor and so when things go beyond a certain threshold, it turns them down based on a ratio. It works with their dynamics. It also let you set different ranges, or different bands that the compression is sensitive to in relationship to frequency.
So, you'll notice we have the frequencies here, like we would an equalizer, and then the amount of boost or gain. So, with our track, well let's just send her through, take a listen, and we'll see where it starts to boost. So this is a flat scenario. As you would expect, there's a lot more low-end in this track. So we're seeing a lot more reduction of the low-end frequencies and not so much in the high-end frequencies. (Music playing.) So I want to use this and try and go ahead and even out some of the frequencies in this song.
So I'm going to go ahead and actually load up a preset that we used, which looks pretty extreme, and I'm going to say that this is sort of extreme for example purposes. And when you start to work with these things, you'll find that you work in terms of increments, and this is sort of an extreme amount of effect to be putting on at this point. But for demonstration purposes, it'll reveal what happens. So we're going to go ahead and highlight this, and we'll make another copy, so we can visually scope out the difference. Then we'll go ahead and processes this, and bring down the Output volume a little bit, since we're doing so much to crank it.
We're going to render this multi-band compression at the file level to this file. All right, we are going to go ahead and try that again. So we've got to make a few adjustments. Obviously, we are a little too hot on that. So we're going to try not - we can't boost those high as that much. We've got to spend a little bit more energy on cutting some of these lows. As you can see, we clip by pushing those up too much. So let's go for it again.
Hopefully, there'll be success for us. So, let's take a look at this new output in the frequency meter and see what we have got. I'll just grab that center section. (Music playing.) So we can see it's a little more even. We're definitely getting more of the midrange and we brought the base down a little bit. Different mixes kind of require different degrees of compression. With this one, I know that the intent was to have kind of that low-end thump thing, and we just want to make sure that there's enough high-end and midrange so that it's all audible.
So I think by listening back, we can tell that it's close enough. (Music playing.) And again, with all these plug-ins, it's easy to kind of watch and look and see if it's okay. But a lot of times, you also want to just listen and double check with your ears. In fact, that's one thing you should probably be listening as much as you're looking when you doing things like mastering. I'm going to go ahead and normalize this again and bring it back up. We'll grab the old AudioSuite > Normalizer, quickly make it loud again.
That's good enough. Now we're going to try and limit this a little bit in an attempt to squash some of those peaks so that we can turn it up yet again. So let's just compare. (Music playing.) Here's our initial, and here's where we are now. (Music playing.) You can hear it's brighter and a bit more full. So what I want to do is I'm going to open up another plug-in for dynamics and we're going to do a little bit of limiting.
Limiting, if you recall, is like compression, only it's a hard ceiling, meaning that once you hit the threshold, you're turned back down. So I'm going to say by setting this, everything that goes above -4 dB, we're going to mush, and then we're going to move the whole file up to a -1 output. So here we go, and we'll notice this will turn - this will flatten out a little bit.
So we've expanded the file, we've mushed it, and then we made the whole thing louder. So let's go ahead and take a look at this, or listen, rather. Here's what we had. (Music playing.) Here's what we have now. (Music playing.) So you can see the difference in the amount of volume we have and the amount of constant volume. So here's my initial mix. (Music playing.) I like to call this kind of soft mastering.
If you take this stuff to a pro, what they'll do goes way beyond what we're doing here, but this is something you can do with what's available in the plug-in world. So here's the A-B. Sorry, I interrupted myself. (Music playing.) Now that might not sound like a whole lot on the movie you're watching, but if we were to be sitting in the studio, I'd feel like, wow it's four times louder, and it's way more in-my-face and that sounds pretty good.
So, mastering can kind of do that for you. You can kind of push things way up to the front and give you maximum volume. At the same time, it's possible to kind of master or compress the life out of a piece of music. So you don't want to just apply this stuff and mush it and smash it so it just looks like a big block of a waveform. You want to make sure that what you're doing works with the music you're working with. So you want to make it louder, you want to make it closer and a little bit more compressed, but you don't want to sacrifice the integrity of what you're making, or the character of the recording that you think is appropriate. In the next movie, we'll take this mastered file and trim the edges a little bit and get it ready for the world.
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